Cash-strapped BEST increases fares, curtails benefits for employees

The fare hike is expected to make monthly passes costlier by at least 30 per cent for up to 20 km, and quarterly passes costlier by 50 per cent.

Written by Neha Kulkarni | Mumbai | Published: November 15, 2017 3:11:23 am
A double decker BEST bus in Mumbai. Express Photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi

With an eye on receiving grants from its parent body Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), bus utility Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) Tuesday passed a proposal to increase fares and curtail benefits for its employees. The BEST committee has accepted these suggestions, which are expected to save the utility Rs 500 crone annually. Attempts of BEST to convince the BMC to fund the undertaking have so far been met with suggestions to first improve its finances, and cut costs.

The fare hike is expected to make monthly passes costlier by at least 30 per cent for up to 20 km, and quarterly passes costlier by 50 per cent. The revision comes 17 months after the cash-strapped BEST announced cuts in fares, to attract more passengers. While ridership on some routes saw a surge after the drop in fares, the impact of the move was below the undertaking’s expectations.

While fares for feeder routes that form the core ridership of the undertaking have not been changed, BEST has increased fares for longer routes. After six kilometres, fare for an adult passenger increases from Rs 14 to Rs 15 in an ordinary bus. The highest fare hike is Rs 62 from Rs 50 for a distance of 50 kilometres.

The lowest increase in slab for a monthly pass is from Rs 620 to Rs 660. For a quarterly pass, it has increased from Rs 1,850 to Rs 1,980. The highest fares for passes would now be Rs 2,070 for a monthly pass and Rs 6,210 for a quarterly pass for over 50 kilometres.

Students would be the most affected due to the hike. Fare has increased from Rs 150 to Rs 200 for a monthly pass for students up to Class V. For students between Class VI and X, the fare has increased to Rs 1,250 for a quarterly pass from Rs 750. Fares for students of junior colleges and diploma courses have increased from Rs 300 for a monthly pass to Rs 350 and to Rs 1,750 from Rs 1,500 for a six monthly pass.

Fares of magic bus passes and exclusive trips offered to schoolchildren have also increased. The BMC would pay for the bus fare of children studying in Corporation schools. Private school trips within the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) limit and beyond would also see an increase in fare hike.

Students and regular commuters have expressed disappointment over the fare hike. “Giving passes at concessional rates for schoolchildren must remain the aim of a public transport utility. The hike discourages us from sending our kids by BEST buses, which have no special feature in them but are charging higher,” said Anita Kolawade, whose daughter Suchitra uses a BEST bus from Vadala to travel to her school in Dadar.

Santosh Sonawane, a school student, said, “I travel to school using a BEST pass. The increase in fares is not logical. The bus fails to come on time on most counts. For what reason, do we pay additional fares?”

The BEST, facing losses to the tune of Rs 2,000 crone, has been demanding a grant of Rs 1,000 crone from the BMC. However, the BMC Commissioner was insistent on BEST adopting measures to bring down expenditure and increasing profits.

“We have held three meetings with the BMC Commissioner and adopting cost-cutting measures has remained his stand. Each of the above listed measures aims at encouraging public transport. We would ensure each of them remains a temporary measure till the financial condition of the utility improves,” Sunil Baghade, BEST General Manager, said.

Other measures include rationalising routes of at least 385 buses out of the 480 routes. These routes hardly earn even 40 percent of the expenditure incurred on them, officials said.

Employee benefits including monthly allowances for paying electricity dues, school fees of children, scholarship, house rent allowances, and travel benefits will also be curtailed. The proposal aims at freezing hiring to 7,500 job positions. It also aims to reduce job positions of at least 25 officers who work under Grade A in the undertaking.
The undertaking had predicted losses of Rs 880 crone in the financial statement for 2018-19. The latest move will help them bring losses down to Rs 334.99 crone, they claim.

The proposal will now be discussed in the BMC for approval. “We will take a look at their improvement trajectory after they implement the proposal, after which we will decide on finding them,” Ajoy Mehta, BMC Commissioner said.

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